All Commentary
Wednesday, November 1, 1989

Perspective: Is Aid Helping Prolong the Sudanese War?

The government of the Democratic Republic of Sudan has become increasingly dissatisfied with the United States and other Western governments for failing to provide sufficient aid. This was never more evident than following last year’s flooding in northern Sudan, when Information Minister Abdallah Mohamed Ahmed called the U.S. “miserly” and said, “[their response] has let us know who our true friends are.” (The Daily Nation [Nairobi, Kenya], August 26,1988)

Gone are the days when gifts, regardless of size, were gratefully received. Foreign aid has come to be expected as a right, and provides a large chunk of many Third World nations’ budgets. Many Third World governments limp from crisis to crisis, ever promising but rarely delivering true reform. And with the supply taps endlessly open, there is little incentive for reform.

In fact, why end the current civil war? Time was when starving people and endless destruction made it impossible to continue a war. But now war simply brings in more foreign aid. So where is the incentive to stop it?

—J. Keith Bateman

Juba, Sudan

Knowledge of the Law Is No Excuse

The Dallas Morning News says HUD overcharges have cost the taxpayers $1 billion in the last five years.

My goodness, a billion dollars. That must be a lot of money. But you couldn’t prove it by me.

It’s so far beyond my comprehension that . . . well, like a giant star that’s a billion miles away, to me it’s next to nothing.

But let me tell you what I can understand: $165.

A friend of mine, who is kind of weird, was telling me about it. (I say he’s weird, but in a nice way. He’s a doctor who still makes house calls.)

What it is, he has a lawyer acquaintance who all the time is trying to make him understand he should be making more money.

“He was telling me what a terrible businessman I am,” the doctor said, chuckling. “But I guess he thought if I was smart enough to know what a doctor knows, maybe I was smart enough to learn what a lawyer knows.

“Real estate—that’s the ticket, he said. I needed to diversify, invest, to widen my holdings.

“Well, what do I know about real estate? Real estate has nothing to do with medicine.

“For that matter, I asked him, what does a lawyer know about real estate? Real estate has nothing to do with law.

“He didn’t answer me directly. Instead he started telling me about a piece of property he owned, a house that he rents out. It so happened I knew which house it was, though I hadn’t known he owned it.

“I said, ‘You mean that old falling down house with the rusty tin roof?.’

“He said, ‘Don’t make fun of it. That old house puts rent money in my pocket every month.’

“I laughed and said, ‘How much money can a place like that rent for?’

“Now it was his turn to laugh. ‘Would you believe $330 a month,’ he said.

“I said, ‘Good night! What idiot would pay $330 for a dump?’

“He said, ‘No idiot would. But HUD pays half of it.’

“I said, ‘Are you telling me that you’re not only making money off poor people, but the taxpayers as well? And you’re telling me that’s what I ought to do?’

“He sort of took offense at that. He said, ‘Well, it’s all perfectly legal.’

“I guess he had me there. I’m no lawyer. But I do know this much, that there can be a big difference between legality and morality, and I told him so.”

Personally, I haven’t seen the property and have no way of knowing if my doctor friend is correct, that it’s a bad deal for everybody involved, poor people and taxpayers alike.

I do know this much: that half of $330 is $165.

Just for the fun of fiddling with figures, let’s say there are 10 such bad deals in this county, amounting to $1,650 a month in HUD money or $19,800 a year.

Multiply that figure times the 256 counties in Texas. All of a sudden you’ve topped $5 million.

Take it one more step, $5 million times 50 states, and by golly we’re at the quarter of a billion dollar mark.

In just four years—not five—you have found a billion dollars in bad deals.

But like the fellows say, here in Lufkin and there in Washington, it was all perfectly legal.

Far be it from me to suggest otherwise. About the only legal precept I know is that ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Too bad it doesn’t work the other way as well: that knowledge of the law is no excuse.

—Joe Murray,

writing in the July 3, 1989, issue of

The Lufkin Daily News, Lufkin, Texas,

a member of Cox Newspapers, Inc

FEE Salutes Henry Hazlitt

November 28, 1989, marks the 95th birthday of Henry Hazlitt, noted author and economist. Mr. Hazlitt has served FEE as a Trustee since its beginning in 1946 and was recently voted the designation “Founding Trustee” by his fellow members of the Board.

For a glimpse at Mr. Hazlitt’s illustrious career, see Bettina Bien Greaves’ article, “Henry Hazlitt: A Man for Many Seasons,” starting on page 420.

This fall FEE published Henry Hazlitt: An Appreciation, a collection of essays by and about Mr. Hazlitt. The booklet also contains Mrs. Greaves’ annotated bibliography of Mr. Hazlitt’s books.

Henry Hazlitt: An Appreciation is available from FEE free of charge with the purchase of Economics in One Lesson (paperback $7.95).